Humility Made Sister Jugan a Saint

Little Sisters of the Poor Founder to Be Canonized Sunday

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Por Carmen Elena Villa

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 8, 2009 ( Blessed Marie de la Croix Jugan never sought worldly recognition, not even to be known as the founder of the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Poor.

On Sunday however, she will be recognized worldwide as a saint in a canonization ceremony celebrated in Rome by Benedict XVI.
«The true measure of sanctity is humility,» she constantly repeated, quoting St. John Eudes, for whom she had a great devotion in her earthly life.
The town of Cancale in northern France, on the coast of Brittany, is where Jeanne Jugan was born in 1792.
Her childhood was not easy. In addition to the historical context in which she grew up — the French Revolution broke out three years before her birth — her family had many financial difficulties.
Her father, a simple fisherman, disappeared at sea when she was four years old. «This death marked her also in the area of acceptance of suffering and sensitivity for those who suffer,» the postulator of her canonization cause, Spanish Dominican Father Vito Gomez, told ZENIT.
At age 16, she took a job as a kitchen maid, something she continued to do for nine years. «She worked hard, and in that work forged a very solid personality,» said Father Vito.
He noted that Blessed Jugan’s spirituality was centered on Christ. She read and meditated on the writings of some of the French masters of spirituality, such as St. Francis de Sales and St. Vincent de Paul. This enhanced her special devotion to the Eucharist and to the Virgin Mary.

Jeanne Jugan was anxious to serve the poorest. She invited beggars into her home and even gave them her bed. «I would say that this virtue of charity is like the constellation around which all her other virtues rotated,» noted Father Vito.
On Oct. 15, 1840 she decided to found a small charitable association headed by a parish priest, Father Augusto Le Pailleur, vicar of Saint-Servan. From this community was born the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Poor. The first young women made their vows of obedience on December 8, 1842.
This new community lived with the objective of «participating in the happiness of spiritual poverty, directed to total despoliation which raises the soul to God,» as its constitution directs.
The community elected her as its first superior, a post she held for only two weeks as Father Le Pailleur decided to revoke the election. Years later the priest ordered her to live a more retired life, involved only in domestic tasks, and removed from her benefactors, a decision she accepted without protest. She lived in this way for 27 years.
«She put into practice the dictum that ‘your left hand should not know what your right hand is doing,’ to the point of disappearing into the group of which she was really the founder,» said the postulator.
Blessed Marie de la Croix, as she was called after entering religious life, died in August 1879 when the congregation had some 2,488 women religious and 177 homes for the elderly. Months earlier, Pope Leo XIII had approved the congregation’s statutes.
The future saint was recognized as the official founder of the Little Sisters of the Poor only at the beginning of the 20th century, when members of the order decided to write the history of the community, said Father Vito.
«She never rebelled against her marginalization; on the contrary, she dedicated herself more intensely to her congregation,» the priest affirmed.

Be little
Blessed Jugan left nothing in writing; instead, she repeated words that today illuminate the charism of the Little Sisters of the Poor.
She would say: «Jesus awaits you in the chapel. Go to meet him when you are at the limit of your patience and strength, when you feel alone and weak.»
The founder urged her sisters: «Tell him: ‘You know what is happening to me, good Jesus. I have nothing else but you. Come to my help […].’ And then go. And don’t be worried about what you will do. It is enough that you spoke about it to the good God. He has a good memory!»
Today the Little Sisters of the Poor are active in 31 countries worldwide. In addition to vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, they dedicate their lives to caring for the elderly.
In this way, they aim to transmit their joy and spirituality as well as to learn from the wisdom of those who are in the last stage of their lives, preparing them for their encounter with God in eternity.
The congregation’s statutes affirm, «To be a Little Sister of the Poor reminds us of our desire to always go out to the poorest, to create a current of apostolic collaboration and fraternal charity to help Christ in the poor.»

In the homily at Blessed Jugan’s beatification in 1982, Pope John Paul II told the sisters: «Be little, very little! Guard that spirit of humility and simplicity! If we were to think that we are something, the congregation would no longer bless the good God, it would be our end.»

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